Olympic impact on China’s water industry

February 25, 2008 at 2:12 pm

With the Beijing Olympics only months away, the Chinese government is having to resort to desperate measures to ensure that there is enough water for the construction projects, artificial lakes and fountains, plus of course the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the Games. Government figures show that Beijing has a water reserve of only 66,000 gallons per person, one thirtieth of the world’s average and one eighth of the Chinese average. Demand in Beijing is expected to rise by 30% when the Olympic Games start.

The Government plans to divert billions of gallons of water, hundreds of miles, to deal with the increased demand, but sadly the water is being taken from regions which can ill afford it. The province of Hebei appears to be bearing the brunt of the problem, despite the region’s ten year long drought. Whilst many of the Chinese say that they are willing to make the sacrifice, because of what the Olympic Games will mean to their country, others are less sure. Many farmers are no longer able to grow rice or vegetables because of irrigation problems and have turned to wheat and corn instead. Others have turned to rearing livestock, which in turn makes the arid conditions worse. The Government offers compensation to the farmers, but it has been reported that these payments do not always materialise. According to the Baoding Water Office, 31,000 inhabitants of the city (the largest in the province) have lost land or been forced out of their homes for the project.

The £30 billion ‘South to North Water Transfer Project’ is claimed to be the solution to Beijing’s problem. The root cause of this problem is not just from the Olympics, but is also a result of the country’s urban and industrial growth. The plan, which is already under way, will involve three huge canal systems diverting 300 million cubic metres of water from the Yangtse River in central China to the Yellow River and city of Beijing further north.

In an article published in Dec 2007 in the New York Review of Books, environmental activist, Dai Qing, describes the “water follies” due to open for the Olympic Games this summer. These include a huge lake surrounding the National Grand Theatre adjacent to Tiananmen Square, the world’s biggest fountain which shoots water 134 metres into the air at the Shunyi Water Heaven, a water park built on the dried up River Chaobai, not to mention the hundreds of golf courses built in and around the city, which all require a massive input of water. During the Games, for the first time in the city’s history, the inhabitants of Beijing will be able to turn on their taps and drink from them, courtesy of unpolluted supplies from the provinces. After the Games, however, normal service will be resumed.

The world will no doubt gasp in awe at the miracle which is the Beijing Olympics but as Dai Qing states, the fundamental point is that “…they don’t have enough water in Northern China to begin with. Why should they pay such a heavy price for Beijing?”

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Tips for gardeners

February 18, 2008 at 1:51 am

As a whole, outdoors water consumption accounts for just 6% of the annual amount used by householders in the UK. Unfortunately, though, when supplies reduce in the summer, our consumption increases. In fact, it can rise to as much as 70% of the annual amount, as we all start fretting about our plants and lawns. Last summer may have been wet, but droughts and hosepipe bans are likely to become part of 21st century life, so it is a good idea to bear in mind the measures that we can take to minimise the need for water in the first place.

First of all, think ahead when you are planning any replanting or new lawns. Also, try to do it in the autumn or early spring, in order to develop a good root system before the heat of the summer strikes. If you wait until the summer, they simply will not survive without watering.

Don’t worry if your lawn turns brown during a hot summer. A few days of rain will soon see it return to normal. Scarifying in the autumn will help maximise water penetration.

Increasing the amount of moisture which a flower bed can hold is of paramount importance. Add a bucket-load per square metre of bark, manure or compost and this will have the added advantage of keeping the weeds at bay. There is not much point using precious water to help the weeds thrive!

Grey water from the kitchen and bathroom is fine for watering the garden, so long as you do not use it on anything which you are going to eat. It can, however, be a breeding ground for bacteria if stored too long, so it is advisable to use it quickly.

Better still is rainwater, which can be collected easily in a water butt. These come in different shapes and sizes and can be disguised by climbing plants on a trellis, if you are concerned about the aesthetic effect on your garden.

It is of course important to know whether you need to water your plants in the first place. Feel the soil at a depth of 30cm under the surface. If it is damp then you do not need to water. Bear in mind, though, that clay and sandy soil can be deceptive, with the former often feeling damp even when water is needed and vice versa with sand. Remember to check the weather forecast too as there is no point watering if rain is forecast.

Having decided that watering is required, it is also important to know the most effective technique. Water only at the base of the plants’ stems, beneath the leaves. Make sure you keep the soil around the plant dry. This will make sure that weeds don’t grow and that the root zone is receiving all the water applied. Make sure the water is applied at a gentle and steady rate.

Choose your time of day carefully when it comes to watering. If you do it in the heat of the day, much of the benefit will be lost due to evaporation. It is best to do it first thing in the morning or leave it until the evening.

Finally, think about what you actually plant in your garden. Drought resistant plants come in all shapes and sizes and a comprehensive list can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website. However, these only become drought resistant after they are established, so don’t forget to give them a drink until this point.

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Fluoride to be added to all UK tap water

February 12, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Millions of homes in the UK are soon to receive additional fluoride in their tap water. The plan, which was announced by the Health Secretary Alan Johnson this month, will set out to add the mineral to all of the UK’s water and provide us all with the free and tasteless way of (apparently) improving our health…at no additional cost.

Fluoride is a mineral found in fresh water and seawater and is known to strengthen the enamel in our teeth. There has been evidence that it significantly reduces tooth decay and the need for fillings in our teenage years and later in life. The evidence is there in front of our eyes, or rather mouths. Over the last 40 years, children in Birmingham and Manchester have been monitored and in Birmingham, where fluoride has been added to drinking water, there has been significantly fewer children developing tooth decay and requiring dental work. In Manchester, however, where there has been no additional fluoride provided there has been a significantly greater amount of dental care needed in children. The figure is roughly 15% more according to the study carried out by York University.

Over 5 million people already drink additional fluoride in their tap water here in the UK and some 500,000 are gifted with it from natural sources. Many health specialists would argue that any kind of additional imbibing of fluoride is dangerous for our health. Critics of Mr Johnson’s proposed plans have claimed that fluoride can lead to health problems which vastly outweigh a filling or two, in the form of cancer, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and kidney and urinary problems.

Mr Johnson defended the idea by saying this month that, “Fluoridation is an effective and relatively easy way to help give children from poorer backgrounds a dental boost that can last a lifetime”. He followed on to say, “We have a duty to help the areas with the worst record of tooth decay to discuss this issue and take the necessary steps to improve their dental health”.

However, a spokesman for the National Pure Water Association said in response “Fluoridation is carried out by water companies in violation of their customers’ human right to refuse consent to any medical intervention.”
This isn’t the first time the government have thought about introducing something into our diets to improve our quality of life. The ‘nanny state’ idea was last seen in 2007 when the Department of Health told us that they would be putting additional folic acid into flour sold on the shelves to prevent defects in births. Would cleaner air be too much to ask for?

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Top ten water saving tips

February 1, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Perhaps you made a New Year’s resolution to improve your green credentials or maybe you have recently had a water meter fitted and are keeping an eye on your budget. Either way, you will be interested to find out about the top ten water saving tips approved by the Water Saving Group (WSG).

The WSG was started in October 2005 with the aim of bringing together all the key players in the industry to encourage consumers to adopt a more “waterwise” lifestyle. After all, water is an extremely precious resource which we tend to take for granted in this country. It is not, however, as plentiful as we may think.

Here are the WSG’s top ten tips:

  • Don’t leave the tap running when you clean your teeth, wash your hands, shave or wash the dishes. This can save six litres of water per minute.
  • If your tap is dripping, replace the washer. One dripping tap can be responsible for wasting 15 litres of water a day.
  • Do you put the dishwasher on at the same time each day? Wait until you have a full load and do the same with the washing machine. Even if you have a machine with a half load function, it will still use more than 50% of the water and energy needed for a full load.
  • If you’re making a cup of tea, there is no need to boil a whole kettle of water. Just use enough for your immediate requirements and this will also save energy.
  • Old toilets use 9 litres of water per flush so if you are buying a new one, make sure it is one with a low flush or dual flush function. If you have no plans to replace your existing model, fit a “hippo” in the cistern to reduce the water used when you flush.
  • If you are scraping dirty potatoes and vegetables, it is tempting to leave the tap running. By filling a bowl with water instead, you can not only reduce the amount of water used but also use the water in the garden afterwards.
  • Make sure that your water pipes and garden taps are insulated to avoid the risk of burst pipes.
  • Use a water butt for collecting rain water for the garden and use a watering can whenever possible. If you have to use a hosepipe, buy one with an adjustable nozzle to control the flow.
  • Half an hour of using a hose will consume more water than the average family uses in a day, so when washing your car stick to the old fashioned bucket and sponge. You can always use a watering can for rinsing.
  • Try to make fundamental changes to your lifestyle such as having a shower instead of a bath. In general, a five minute shower uses around a third of the water needed for a bath, although power showers can use more than a bath in under five minutes. Think drought-resistant plants when it comes to the garden. For information on suitable plants see the Royal Horticultural Society’s website.

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